Solange - True

Solange
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After what seems an eternity of paparazzi publicity but little in the way of new product, the other Knowles sister is back with an eclectic set of evening songs. Now on her third project, Solange Knowles continues to find ways to intrigue as a branded personality and cosmetically distinguish herself from her mega-superstar sister, Beyonce. Unfortunately, while True does mark another definitive expression of Solange’s evolving artistry, it doesn’t best her previous, more infectious efforts. However, it does qualify as perhaps her first truly “alternative” project given what else is happening across commercial radio.

After what seems an eternity of paparazzi publicity but little in the way of new product, the other Knowles sister is back with an eclectic set of evening songs. Now on her third project, Solange Knowles continues to find ways to intrigue as a branded personality and cosmetically distinguish herself from her mega-superstar sister, Beyonce. Unfortunately, while True does mark another definitive expression of Solange’s evolving artistry, it doesn’t best her previous, more infectious efforts. However, it does qualify as perhaps her first truly “alternative” project given what else is happening across commercial radio.

That Beyonce’s kid sister so often got framed as “alternative” was a mystery to me, since Solange Knowles’ music has had a clear and definitive pop sensibility right from the start. While not quite as obvious or trending as Beyonce’s catalog, Solange’s music is comfortably mainstream within the hipster milieu (think Fader or Paper for the AfroPunk set). Solange is for those who think the commonplace liking of Beyonce is tantamount to drinking Tang in the ‘50s. Those thumbing their nose at B, see Solange as their kind of “serious artist,” even if the sisters’ creative differences are more stylistic than philosophical, and only then by degrees. With nothing even close to anthems like “Girls Run The World,” this project does a better job of proving Solange’s “alternative” framer’s case.

 Very early on with both her introductory project and her work on Kelly Rowland’s debut with songs like “Heavenly” and “Simply Deep,” Solange established herself as a skilled songwriter and arranger worth watching. Never a unique or powerhouse singer, but Solange has a serviceable pop tone, some lilting high notes, and she’s terrifically gifted in doubling and layering her voice into compelling harmonies. This was demonstrated on such infectious jams as “T.O.N.Y.,” “Sandcastle Disco” and “Valentine’s Day” and such annoyances as the electronic retro-soul radio hit, “I Decided, Pt. 1,” from 2010’s Sol-Angel and The Hadley Street Dreams. That sophomore album mined the ‘60s and ‘70s and flipped what were familiar sounds and chords and bent them into something fairly fresh for modern-day listeners. Solange’s latest, True, does follow today’s commercial trends by going for the ‘80s new wave sounds, but not the slick anthemic horrors that currently terrorize the peoples’ airwaves. True is dense with heavy but synthesized basslines, a use of space and spectral sound effects reminiscent of Robert Palmer, Phil Collins or even the Art of Noise during their hit-making runs.

Songs like “Locked in Closets” and “Lovers in the Parking Lot” are less concerned with being easily followed as they are with having unexpected arrangements, unusual melody lines, and creative use of harmonic passages that give a floral beauty to these slightly depressive soundscapes. These aren’t songs to whistle to, but a couple have hooks that draw listeners in and keep them engaged enough to hear what Solange, the artist, is going to do next. What she does next with the heartbeat ballad “Look Good With Trouble” starts as what might be the most open and inviting song of the bunch, but the song ends at 1:31, just as you’re settling into its comfy confines, leaving listeners wondering what might have been had the date not shown them the door quite so soon. Her indigo shaded single, “Losing You” is still the most upbeat joint of this seven song EP, but feels like an album filler from Madonna’s self-titled debut.

Production-wise, this is mood music, plain and simple. The mood is glum and for those who grew up or were grown in the ‘80s, these night sounds will remind you of the soundtracks for the desperate, like those sometimes found in higher-end porn of the era, David Lynch films, or scoring the less talky scenes of Risky Business. You’ve heard it before, and may not be sure how much you liked it the first time, particularly since the songs don’t have any built-in tension or building progressions (though there is clear movement) and it all seems to be meant for a cigarette and a cocktail in a blue-lit bar. As with the best sung of the bunch, “Bad Girls (Verdine version),” these productions decorate in chic melancholia and emote in sullen, vaguely sophisticated tones with a lot of synthetic percussion and electric bass guitar to give it some energy and heft. Still, it’s an old sound made new and for those of the Members Only jackets era there is a familiarity in that.

Whatever can be said about True, there is nothing like it on the radio and there is certainly nothing like it in Beyonce’s or any Destiny Child’s member’s catalog. Solange has managed to create another signature artistic project that does continue to set her apart from that musical dynasty as a creative force in her own right. Hopefully, True’s Less Than Zero vision doesn’t set her ‘80s soundtrack for today’s sad-eyed Holly Golightly so far apart that few will tune in for repeated listening to its cheerless journey. Recommended.

By L. Michael Gipson

 
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